When I was in grad school, my long fiction professor used to say that she really, really wanted to teach a course on point of view and narrative voice — topics, she said, students seemed to find troublesome. These days, as I work with students and clients, many of them new writers, I find that she is right.
I never found point of view/narrative voice to be particularly confusing, but I’m thinking the uncertainty has to do with the excitement and enthusiasm that comes with telling a story — authors want to tell readers absolutely everything that everyone in the book is thinking every step along the way.
And you CAN do that. Sometimes. Not all the time. There are some decisions that have to be made about how you, as the author, want to tell your story:
- Decide which character’s point of view you want the reader to experience your story through. It may be one character. It may be many. In Baby Grand, I have something like 10 main characters, each of them with several chapters devoted to his or her point of view.
- Once you decide on a point of view, STICK TO IT. If a serial killer is your narrator, then the reader should only be experiencing the book through that person. Readers will know what he sees, what he feels, hears, smells, and tastes, as well as his or her thoughts, plans of action, etc. That serial killer will take readers on your journey.
I find that writers have the most problems with #2. They often run into the danger of what’s called “head hopping” — they’ll suddenly switch point of view in the middle of a scene in order to write what’s going on in another character’s head. Here’s an example. In this case, “Janet” should be serving as our narrator for the entire book:
There he was again.
Janet saw the tall, dark stranger at the far end of the frozen yogurt counter, filling his overflowing styrofoam cup with Oreo pieces and chocolate sprinkles. This was the third time he had come into the shop this week! Janet was determined to work up the nerve this time to do more than smile at the guy. She was going to speak.